This is not what I signed up for



Here are some sad but true stories.

Exhibit A:

A young couple feels God’s call to the mission field. The husband was an avionics technician and skilled in all things related to radios. (This was back in the early 70s.) They joined a large mission organization and were recruited to go to Africa. They were told there was a GREAT NEED for someone like him to go and set up a radio network so that the missionaries out in the bush would have a way to communicate with each other and with administration.

Fast forward past the agony and ecstasy of partnership building, and the couple finally arrives in Africa with their three young children.  Their arrival coincided with the organization’s annual conference. One of the purposes for this conference was to vote on various issues related to the group’s work in Africa.

Agenda Item: Do we really need a radio technician?

The vote: No. 

Exhibit B:

Jack and Jill (names changed) are recruited to teach at a missionary school. Jack, a music/band instructor, is told of an impending crisis in the music department. A couple teachers would be leaving on furlough at the same time which would leave a big hole in the department.

The mission organization tried to fast track Jack and Jill so that their arrival would coincide with the departure of the teachers. Alas, this didn’t happen. By the time they arrived the “hole” in the department only lasted one semester, and then the other teachers returned. Not only did the two furloughing teachers come back, but another new music teacher who had been in the pipeline arrived. At this point the school had five music instructors!

Not to forget Jill. Jill was an English teacher. This school had a perpetual shortage of English teachers so she had more than enough to do. As the situation turned from bad to worse for Jack, he couldn’t help but feel like the organization’s real goal was to get Jill there to teach English and he was just a “bonus.”

Unfortunately these are not isolated incidents.  In our 20 years of missions work we’ve been aware of many similar situations.  Sometimes things work out okay and you find other meaningful work to do (like it did for the couple in Africa) but other times it can lead to burnout and an early departure from the field (like it did for Jack and Jill).

Why does it happen?

  • Life happens. There may be a genuine need but by the time someone is recruited for the position sometimes several years have passed. During those years the group’s priorities may change or the position may have been filled by someone else.
  • It’s possible that the organization recruiting you doesn’t have your best interests at heart. The organization’s priorities may trump what is best for you.
  • Recruiters sometimes don’t have a good understanding of the actual field situation. They may genuinely believe that the position is vital but that belief may be based on old information or a position description written by someone with the gift of embellishment.

What can administrators do?

  • Be honest!! If the situation has changed, then let the person know. Immediately! Yes, it might be the 11th hour and maybe they have spent 2 years raising support, but they still need to know.
  • If there are alternative positions that are available that might suit this person’s skill set, then present those options. But don’t try to “create” a position just so that you can get a warm body into the group knowing that once they are there it will be harder for them to leave.
  • Do a better job of matching the couple, not just the individual, with assignments. If one person isn’t happy, then neither will be happy.

What can new recruits do?

  • Ask questions! Don’t be afraid to ask for a detailed description of what your job will be. If it sounds nebulous, be cautious.
  • If possible try to get in touch with people working in the same organization and same country you want to work in. This will give you opportunities to hear from “regular” members and not just from the administration.
  • Think about how the new job(s) you are being asked to do will affect you and your family.  Will it mean spending a lot of time away from your family? Will it mean doing a job that will stress you beyond levels you are comfortable with?
  • Remember that just because you are asked to do a job doesn’t mean that job is God’s will for you. In other words, don’t over spiritualize.

The reality.

Even in the best possible world made up of caring administrators and fully informed recruits, it’s still highly possible that the job you signed up for disappears into thin air or turns out to be completely different than what you expected.  Whatever the case may be, you will have to make a decision at that point about your next steps.  Here are some possible options:

  • Accept the situation as it is and stay for the duration of your term. If you decide to stay, then own that choice and be content in it.
  • Say “This is not what I signed up for” and leave as soon as possible.
  • Stay but set some boundaries.  (e.g. Say that you will stay for a certain period of time and then make a decision at that point.)

Remember this.  If you decide to leave, leaving earlier than you planned does not mean you are a failure!  It takes great courage to make that decision.  In fact, sometimes it may take more courage to leave than it does to stay.

Photo Credit









Advice From an Expert: How to Save the World And Destroy Your Marriage

How to save world while destroying marriage

Kay and I moved to the Solomon Islands in 1993. We boarded a rusty ship and headed out to a remote island village with two small kids in tow, and I jumped head first into learning the Arosi language.  The sooner I learned the language, the sooner the Arosi people would have God’s Word in their language.  What could be more important than that!

Kay, meanwhile, had a 4 year old and a 3 year old to take care of. This was already a full-time job back in the States, but now she had to throw in a few extra simple chores like washing clothes by hand in a stream and cooking everything from scratch using a two-burner stove and a dorm fridge.  And in her spare time she was expected to learn a new language without the help of Rosetta Stone or a language school. As time went by and Kay felt more and more isolated, she would say, “Can we spend 10 minutes talking?”  My response: “About what?”

In my mind at the time, I thought our marriage was pretty good. I based that on the fact that we rarely had disagreements.  Isn’t a peaceful marriage a good marriage? Deep down, I knew that something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Looking back now I realize I was scared.  Scared of having a real relationship because it would mean having to express real thoughts and real emotions.  (And maybe having a real relationship would mean I would have to face the fact that my wife wasn’t thriving in this new environment which might require me to make a change.)  Spending time alone with Kay meant coming face to face with the fact that our marriage was only skin deep, so my best tactic was to avoid spending time alone with her.  Maybe in America we could have gotten away with a mediocre marriage because Kay would have had other avenues for support and connection, but now I was it.

In a recent Time magazine article, renowned marriage expert John Gottman described our situation to a T:

In really bad relationships, people are communicating, “Baby, when you’re in pain, when you’re unhappy, when you’re hurt, I’m not going to be there for you.  You deal with it on your own, find somebody else to talk to because I don’t like your negativity.  I’m busy, I’m really involved with the kids, I’m really involved with my job.  Whereas the [relationship] Masters have the model of, “When you’re unhappy, even if it’s with me, the world stops and I listen.”  (Link to full article) 

Unfortunately, it took a pornography addiction and near-failed marriage to get me on track.  There came a point where I had to make a hard decision. Was I going to sacrifice my marriage over the altar of pornography?  Or what if it hadn’t been pornography?  Would I have sacrificed my marriage over the altar of missions?

If I could go back in time this is what I would want my former self to know:

  • Your relationship can be so much more than you can even imagine. Don’t be afraid!
  • Spend time alone together, even if it’s hard. It will get easier. In his research, relationship expert Dr. Gottman has found what he calls “The five hours of magic”. You can read more here.   Hannah Trotter (age 6), daughter of ALOS contributors Jonathan & Elizabeth Trotter, recently wrote what she calls her “first blog”which she has graciously permitted me to use.  What great advice!  Although in my case I needed to substitute “FAMULY” with “WIFE”.

eat cake

  • Your ability to work long term overseas is going to depend a lot more on the strength of your marriage than on the strength of your language skills or the greatness of your ministry.

Mainly I would want my former self to know that our marriage didn’t have to be me vs. her. By the grace of God we’re now on the same team, and no matter where we live, it will always be about what the team needs.

 How does your life overseas suit you?

How does your life overseas suit your wife?

If your life overseas isn’t working for your wife, would you be willing to make a change?

What happens when you talk together about these things?

Are you able to talk about these things? If not, why not?

(Check the Resources page if you’re looking for counseling support or the Spiritual and Emotional Health section on the Recommended Reading page for some helpful books.)

Want to see what a porn-addicted missionary looks like?

selling books on ship

Look pretty normal don’t I? Ok, I admit I was a bit scrawny but I come from a long line of skinny people and it was 95 degrees with 90% humidity in the Solomon Islands, so it tends to curb the appetite!  My point is that you’d never know by looking at me that I was taking advantage of every opportunity to look at porn.  On the outside I was the “fearless Bible Translator bringing the Word of God to the Bibleless people” but on the inside I hated myself and was doubting that God could really love me or if He even existed.

So why write a post like this for all the world to see? Well, several friends have asked me how I feel about having my struggle with pornography out there for all the world to see now that Kay has published her memoir so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about that a bit.  There are two main reasons:

  •  Anyone can become addicted to porn, including people in ministry & leadership.

We should all know the statistics by now about how often pornography is being viewed by men and women.  But just in case you’ve forgotten, here are a few stats from Covenant Eyes that relate to the Church:

porn stats

The one that jumps out at me is that 75% of pastors don’t make themselves accountable to anyone.  I’m not really surprised though–obviously I chose not to be accountable when I was a missionary!  Even though I knew I needed help, the shame and the guilt along with the possible loss of a career were too much for me to overcome.

  • There’s too much shame about pornography in the Christian community

My desire is to see the Church become a place where we can talk about issues like pornography without freaking out.  A place where someone can share their struggles and know they are loved and supported and not viewed as some sort of sexual pervert.

“It’s a tragedy when churches shame people who are wrestling with sexual bondage. When we do that we become the priests of further condemnation instead of hope. We deepen the shame with the bony finger of a critical god, instead of revealing the open arms of a crucified Savior.”  Ted Roberts in Pure Desire

“The majority of the people I have counseled could give a long list of things they are good at. They also could state their character strengths and gifts. Most of them deeply love the Lord, but they didn’t understand that we are as sick as the secrets we hold.”  Ted Roberts

What can we do?

Make ourselves accountable.

Covenant Eyes is the software package we use.  We like it because it sends a report to the accountability partners we’ve chosen.  Our accountability partners are constantly aware of how we’re doing.  If we need help, it’s right there, already in place.

Here’s a great article that provides a step by step plan to get all of your devices set up for internet accountability.

Educate ourselves.

Be willing to read up on what’s really out there on the internet.  Covenant Eyes has a blog you can subscribe to for free, plus a ton of free downloads addressing the needs of men, women, and families.  Don’t assume it can’t happen in your house.  It can happen.  Be prepared.

Start talking about it!!!

Find people willing to share their personal struggle and recovery with your church.  And it doesn’t just have to be about pornography.  When people start honestly sharing their own struggles in any area, it helps create an atmosphere of acceptance.

Provide resources in your church bookstore or website.

Check out the Pornography Resource page on Kay’s blog for starters.

Encourage your church and mission agency toward internet accountability for all staff.

A pastor/missionary/__________ is just a normal person struggling with the same things that we all struggle with. Let’s not put them on a pedestal expecting them to attain some measure of sinless perfection that is impossible to attain.  There needs to be a safe mechanism in place for people in Christian ministry who struggle with sexual purity to get help BEFORE it gets out of control.

Special note to women readers

Since a lot of the readers here are women, I want to tell you that the point of talking about all this is not to freak you out and make your life miserable if you find out your husband is looking at porn.  The point is, to understand how common it is, to talk about it, to learn to manage it together, so that this doesn’t have to be hidden away in shame, where it can’t be healed.

Recovery is possible.  It’s a ton of work, for sure.  But it does happen.

Kay said for years that when she wrote her memoir, it would be called Pornography Saved My Marriage, because that was our experience:  after going through the pain together, after healing together, our marriage was stronger than it had ever been before.  In the end, though, she went with the title As Soon As I Fell.  It’s available now at Amazon in paperback and ebook format.  (Note: You don’t have to own a Kindle to read Kindle ebooks. Amazon has free apps for smartphones and computers.)

We’re also doing a book giveaway on her blog this week which will end at midnight (CST) on Wednesday, October 22nd.  Just subscribe to her blog and you’ll be entered.

I’m always happy to talk to anyone who is struggling with pornography.  If you want to contact me privately feel free to contact me at brunerfamATgmailDOTcom.